One of the many small details that make up the bigger picture of daily novitiate life is when we are invited to pray the Examen. This takes place twice daily, one around midday and the other before bed, thus providing a neat Ignatian framework within which we set our lives as novices.
Prior to arriving at the novitiate I was aware of the Examen and, trying to be a good candidate to the Society, I attempted to build it into my daily life with limited success. I found it a useful exercise in bookending my day and adding to the thanksgiving I gave God for the blessings I enjoyed, however it was not until arriving at the novitiate that I unlocked (in some small way at least) the benefits which this prayer can bring and found that it was so much more deeper than the ‘reflective practice’ many professionals are told to perform in their workplace.
The Examen is a way of interpreting the presence of God in our lives. It is a short period of time in which we stop, reflect on the various events of our morning or afternoon and our various feelings that surround them. We consider what we have to be grateful for, what increased our faith in others, how did we meet our commitments and what do we need to do or think to make the changes that will help us to be the person God calls us to be? [These questions, along with many others, are found in a number of short Examen booklets produced by the Society of Jesus and are widely available from Jesuit parishes and communities.]
By questioning ourselves in such a manner we can detect what brought us interior joy or sorrow. This allows us to retrospectively discern ‘where was God’ today and assess how we responded to his presence. Was I aware of Him or (as is usually the case for me) was I oblivious to Him? What exactly was it that brought me immense joy or sorrow? Ultimately, searching for these answers inside our soul allows us to find God in all things by helping us to detect his presence in our daily activities. Perhaps most powerfully it can lead us to seeing to where and through whom God is calling us to serve Him. On a personal level I have found the beauty of the Examen is the increased sensitivity it grants me to every aspect of my daily life, genuinely placing me closer to Christ via every word or action that I give or receive. In turn this grants a previously unknown clarity that allows me to make sense of my decisions and augment my powers of perception that are so important during the on-going vocational discernment process that is novitiate life.
The Examen is not just a prayer for aspiring and actual Jesuits; it is a gift Ignatius has left for all of us wishing to improve our lives. The Examen allows us to make much more sense of our ‘mentally polluted’ modern lives, it allows us to make the decisions that He wants us to make and not the decisions we want us to make, calling us ever-closer to Scriptures such as James (1:22-25):
‘You must do what the word tells you, and not just listen to it and deceive yourselves. To listen to the word and not obey is like looking at your own features in a mirror and then, after a quick look, going off and immediately forgetting what you looked like. But the man who looks steadily at the perfect law of freedom and makes that his habit – not listening and then forgetting, but actively putting it into practice – will be happy in all that he does.’